Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Skipping town

Vacation Monday. Sunshine. Walking. Family dinner. Tired.

Vacation Tuesday. Setting up my office in the sunroom. Playing in the pool. Family dinner. Skipping down the sidewalk with my niece. Tired.

Playing can be more tiring than work. I don't know if this means I am doing it wrong or just need to get in better play-shape. Perhaps it means we really are in need of a rest. Taking a day off is not the same as a sabbath, I am finding out.

Photo: This is a row of scooters I saw on our walk in downtown Winnipeg.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Out, out!

I was attacked by a nasty bout of food poisoning this week. Once your body senses that there are evil toxins in the belly and kicks into eject mode, there is just nothing you can do to stop the process. I won't turn your stomach with the details.... well, maybe just a few of them. I have to admit that some of the them were kind of funny.

The first wave of nausea hit while I was sitting in a meeting on Wednesday evening. After a few trips to the bathroom it became clear that staying in the meeting was not an option. Since I was there with Dean, I couldn't leave, so I dragged myself out to the car and lay down in the back seat. By this time I was throwing up every half hour. When the urge came, I would open the car door and grace the street with my stomach's rejects.

We were parked in a residential neighbourhood which meant that every so often people would pass by walking their dogs. It was uncanny how often my stomach's upheaval coincided with the dog walkers. I tried to delay things so as not to scare the humans and the canines, but once I had to crawl/dash into nearby bushes in order to preserve everyone's dignity.

On the drive home, Dean had to pull over once to accommodate my ejections and he managed to find a spot just after we passed a police car on patrol and before we had to get on the freeway.

Today (44 hours later) I am a few pounds lighter, on my second jug of Gatorade, and thrilled to be able to sit up for a few hours at a time.

The body is a marvel to me at times like this. When threatened, it jumps into action immediately and commandeers whatever resources it needs to get the job done. It forces itself to do really unpleasant things because it knows this will potentially save your life. Would that we were all so sensitive to poisons that threaten our bodies, souls, spirits, and communities.

The photo: at a restaurant with friends on Sunday.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fast worship

Yesterday Dean and I went to see a film called Senna, a documentary about the legendary race car driver from Brazil. Quite a fascinating and moving story. Of course, filmmakers choose what bits of someone's life to showcase and what parts to leave out, but the overall sense was that we were seeing the man not only as a great racer, but as a man who had one passion and a remarkable instinct for it.

He spoke freely about God, read his bible regularly, was referred to as a humble man by his colleagues, and obviously loved his family and his country. The racing world was not always kind to him, yet he showed great restraint in how he dealt with those in his profession.

After he won one of his first Grand prix races, he recounted that near the finish line, he went into a kind of otherworldly zone. He felt the presence of God, a sense of peace. Dean leaned over to me halfway through the movie and said, "This was worship for him." And yes, in some ways it reminded me of Olympic runner Eric Liddell who said that he felt the pleasure of God when he ran.

The intersection of doing something we love, something we have a talent for, something that requires us to give all we are capable of and then some more, and the humble acknowledgment of our need for God in that very place - this is where the presence of God can often be found.

It made me look at my own life and wonder, what is that place for me? Where I have a desire to do well, a genuine instinct for something, where I bring everything I have to the table because nothing less will do. And most importantly, where I feel God's nearness and his pleasure. In this place, I am offering myself to him, I am receiving and giving a gift at the same time. I am a worshipper.

The photo: athletes hard at work at my university. Worship practice?

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Monday, August 22, 2011

6 words

Today all the students in the course I am helping to teach presented mini-lessons. I got to learn about everything from the definition of 'play' to wireless sensor networks. I even participated in a Portuguese language lesson. But my favourite lesson of the day was the one from an English Literature major. She presented a short lesson on the six-word story.

Ernest Hemingway, who is known for his understatement and economy with words, was once challenged to write a story in six words (perhaps as a bar bet) and came up with this masterpiece. For sale: baby shoes, never worn. He is said to have called it his best work. It is amazing how much can be said in six words. In this morning's class, we had a chance to try our hands at this concise form of writing. I will show you my results at the end, but first, here are a few more examples for your enjoyment. Some are from famous authors and some are not.

Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so. - Joss Whedon
Wasted day. Wasted life. Dessert, please. - Frank Miller
We kissed. She melted. Mop please! - James Patrick Kelly
Kirby had never eaten toes before. - Kevin Smith
K.I.A. Baghdad, Aged 18 - Closed Casket. - Richard K. Morgan
Thought I was right. I wasn't. - Graeme Gibson
Will this do (lazy writer asked)? - Ken MacLeod
In the beginning was the word. - John
Finding Nemo. Grilling Nemo. Eating Nemo. - Amy
Lost my wallet, found my desires. - Devendra Surolia
Through mud, under bullets, found freedom. - Conrad Panganiban
Six words. Longer than some lifetimes. - Matte
Don't touch that button. It will -- - Matte

Go ahead and try it! Post your 6 word story as a comment if you like!

Photo: Man, car, ocean. Need nothing more.

Friday, August 19, 2011


A friend came over last weekend and we started talking about the different types of people in our lives. There are lovers, friends, acquaintances, partners, colleagues, bosses, church people, school friends, and the list goes on and on.

Her question to me was this: why do we need to categorize them? Why must my interactions fall within a previously defined parameter? Why can't I let each relationship grow and flower in an organic way as each person brings something to the mix? Why must I slot each interaction into a formula or category I am familiar with?

Can you be a lover without physical intimacy? The monks would say, yes, definitely. Can you be a friend to someone you don't know? Yes, compassion and kindness don't have a minimum interaction quota. I think we do others and ourselves a disservice by boxing them into certain accepted ways of relating. And probably the person we are most guilty of doing this with is God.

Lord, deliver me from my desire to name, categorize, and thereby, limit.

This is a photo I took on the university shuttle bus. You can see the plastic blue seat and the matching upholstery in the forefront and my feet slightly out of focus on the floor. An odd combination, but very right at the time.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

On the move

I am on the bus. Bus 51 in Montreal to be exact. On the morning commute to a teaching assistant job that I am doing for a week-long intensive course. 7 hours of teaching a day is loooooooong. But also extremely rewarding.

I love eager faces on the first day - the excitement about learning something new shining through the apprehensiveness about what is ahead. And I love the bright moments along the way: missing a bus yesterday and still getting there early! Two cello players in the metro today, playing with so much zest and verve that I had to stop and breathe the life in.

Good, long days. Intense days. Learning days. Precious days. I feel for those people who work long days at jobs they don't love with people that are not encouragers. Lord, grace to those on this bus who are weary and heavy-burdened.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

what I can't write about

Sometimes I think of a cool idea for something to write about here and then realise that it probably isn't such a great idea after all. The two most prominent reasons that happenings in my life, despite being interesting and meaningful, don't appear on my blog is 1. some of them are too personal (I do have some sense of propriety), and 2) they involve other people.

My blog is often read by people that I contact in a professional or scholarly setting. Since this website is easy to find when you google my name (and the link is often at the bottom of my email), these people sometimes read it to find out who they are talking to and get a sense of who I am. For that reason, I try to avoid overly personal details. I won't be writing about how sweaty and tired I am right now after an hour-long walk to the store and back - and they didn't even have my item available! I won't be telling the world that I occasionally suffer from irregularity or that yesterday a waiter flirted with me. That's just too much information.

The other thing I can't write about a lot is other people. I used do a bit more of this, because honestly, most of my life lessons come through contact with others. Challenging relationships and interactions make up most of my inspirational and character-building moments. But I don't want to show anyone in a bad light, nor write something about a person that they would rather not have up on a public forum, even though I never identify them. So I won't tell you about the person I struggle to love because we just seem to see the world so differently, or the relationships I hoped would flourish into deep friendships but seem to have stalled (sigh), or all the ways in which Dean loves me and on occasion, frustrates me (lets just say there is a dishwasher involved). That's just wouldn't be kind or considerate.

I cannot write about any one's life here except my own. I cannot live another's life, either. Sometimes I have tried to give advice, offered unsolicited wisdom (I thought it was wise at the time), but that never really turned out well. Though it strikes me as self-indulgent at times, my own life is pretty much the only material I have at my disposal. And if I don't do something with that, if I don't learn from it, if I don't pay attention and see what is going on there, and if I don't share the process with others, then it is a bit of a waste. At least I think so.

So, to all the people that have been and are part of my learning and loving journey: thank you for being there through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the still-being-worked-on. You will probably never read about it here, but I am constantly aware of the gang of great, funny, silly, loving, sometimes hurtful, sometimes challenging, occasionally annoying, and many times heart-bustingly generous people that walk through my life. I need you.

This is a photo that Dean took at the Ernest Hemingway house in Key West, Florida. A group of people gathered for just that one second and none of us at our photographic best! That's just the way it is sometimes.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

why does this keep happening to me?

I try to pay attention to patterns that happen in life. I think there is something to learn from them.

There are positive patterns. When I consistently do well in my courses and hear good comments from professors, I think that perhaps I am not only a good learner, but have the potential to be a good teacher. When I get a spurt of energy and a sense of strength after a workout, I know that this is doing my body good.

There are also negative patterns. When I eat a huge bowl of cherries and my stomach starts to rumble in complaint, I remember that this happens anytime I eat large quantities of fruit and maybe I should learn to pace myself. When I speak bluntly to someone about what they have done wrong and their face falls with dejection, I realize that this is probably not the best way to help someone improve.

And then there are patterns that make me feel like the world is out to get me. Perhaps these are the hardest patterns to deal with because there seems to be no rhyme or reason to them. In these patterns, annoying and hurtful things seem to follow one around, seemingly without cause, and "bad luck" appears to be the only way to explain it. I have a theory about these so-called bad luck patterns. These patterns reveal areas of our lives that are unhealed or lack maturity. For those of us who have signed up for spiritual reformation (by saying yes to the work of the Spirit in our lives), these character-challenging bad luck patterns can almost undo us. But it only makes sense that when we ask God to change us, heal us, mature us, and help us be more like Jesus, we would get the opportunity to do just that. In truth, often times it feels like picking at a scab, poking a bruise, or getting kicked when we are down instead of a pathway to healing. But it IS a way to healing, real healing. And maturity.

As an example: for some reason, really bad, erratic, or slow drivers always seem to find their way right in front of Dean, especially when he is in a hurry to get somewhere. It is uncanny. It frustrates him and understandably so. But it is my belief that this pattern is not random (though we do have our fair share of under-performing drivers in this city). I see that he is being given opportunity after opportunity to develop patience and graciousness towards others who are perhaps not as competent or confident as he is. The challenge is to respond well to these repeating situations instead of getting even more annoyed.

My particular pattern of annoyance is when people opt out or drop the ball. I hate it when people say they will do something or be somewhere and then never show or change their minds at the last minute. I hate it when people say they will call you or say they really want to get together and they never do. I really dislike it when I send out an email that requires a response and hardly anyone bothers to reply. Every time this pattern happens in my life (and it happens much more than I can comfortably handle with grace), I am angered by the utter lack of regard that people seem to have for others. Internally, I rage at their lack of commitment, their self-absorption, and the absence of faithfulness and basic courtesy. I have only lately come to realise that my reaction is usually bigger than the situations merit, and that this pattern will continue to happen in my life until I let some healing come into it. To be honest, it may continue to happen after I mature and get past my neglect and perfectionist issues (living with other flawed humans most certainly guarantees that it will), but these incidents will no longer be able to steal my peace and sense of well-being.

Certainly, people need to mature in their depth of commitment, their awareness of how their actions affect others, and the ability to be faithful. In fact, Dean wonders if a lack of commitment is the sin of our age - I think he might be onto something - but that is not primarily what I am talking about here. The task before me is to graciously and lovingly deal with rejection, disregard, rudeness, unfaithfulness, and thoughtlessness. And that's pretty much impossible, if you ask me.

However, with God, nothing is impossible. The class of mercy is still in session.

This is a photo of a lifeguard tower on Miami Beach. I wish that the beach was something that kept happening to me a little more often.

Monday, August 01, 2011

some thoughts on fruit

I love fruit. It is pretty much my favourite food group. Not only does it look great (much more colourful than steak or sausage), it is juicy and sweet and good for you! This spring, I decided to try growing a few plants on my balcony. Not only did I do the usual pot full of annual flowers, I dedicated a few pots of soil to tomatoes and also planted some watermelon seeds.

As I have been somewhat occupied this spring and summer with trying to keep my plants healthy and growing, I have learned a few things about fruit. When I was asked to give a talk at a church meeting last night, I took some of the lessons I am learning about growing fruit and applied them to growing good spiritual fruit in our lives. Here, then, are some thoughts on fruit.

1. Fruit is a plant that contains its seeds. This means that fruit has the ability to reproduce itself. It carries an exponential factor. Not only is it tasty and attractive, but it is meant to produce more and more every year, just like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are meant to always be increasing in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
2. Fruit is sweet and edible in its raw state. We do not have to add anything manufactured to fruit (unlike chocolate which is made by adding sugar, milk solids, lecithin, and often some type of fat to the cocoa solids pressed from the cocoa bean). Fruit is very attractive. When people see someone enjoying a juicy strawberry, they want one, too! This is what good spiritual fruit is supposed to do as well. Being loved invites us to love others. Seeing someone who is joyful is supposed to attract us to participate in joy.
3. Fruit is the maturation of flowers. Unlike my pretty pot of purple and yellow flowers which are a feast for the eyes, fruit goes past the flowering stage and produces something more. Apple blossoms on a tree mean that apples are soon coming. Spiritual maturation also implies a process that involves a significant amount of time. Fruit does not spring forth full-grown overnight. It needs time to form properly and ripen. As I have watched my plants over the summer, I notice growth every day. Peace and patience also grow by daily increments.
4. Fruit needs a simple environment to grow. All it takes is earth, sun, and water in the proper proportions. And really, growing spiritual fruit is much the same. We all have the perfect environment for growth: where we live, what we do, our relationships, our community, our family, the challenges of life, etc. The stuff of life is fertile soil for kindness and all aspects of spiritual growth.
5. Fruit is not primarily for itself (me). Fruit is meant to be enjoyed by others. In the same way, spiritual fruit that grows in me is for the well-being of those around me. Goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness are not merely desirable qualities that I get to pat myself on the back for; they are for the ultimate benefit of my community and my world.
6. Fruit grows from what I feed it. The nutrients in the soil work their way through the plants and vines to the very ends of the leaves where the flowers bloom and the fruit eventually forms. Whatever is flowing through the plant is what feeds the fruit. If I water my plants with vinegar water, the fruit will taste like vinegar. When we speak about the fruit of our lives, the same principle applies. What is going through my mind, my mouth, my thoughts, my life, my relationships, my work, and my every-day activities is what will end up flavouring the fruit in my life. Self-control is something that channels the right stuff into my soul to make sure that good, healthy, and tasty spiritual fruit is being formed.

But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (Galatians 5:22-23, The Message)

This is a photo of a flower on my watermelon plant. And if you look closely, you can see a tiny watermelon starting to grow on the left side.